A different look at LB for Cougs this spring

THIS SPRING OUT on the Palouse, Paul Wulff is taking the Cougars' leading tackler of last season, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, and moving him to a new spot. Why? Plus, the Cougars' head man talks offensive and defensive lines, and more.

Alex Hoffman-Ellis (84 tackles) is moving to the weakside linebacker spot this spring after lining up at middle linebacker in '09.

"We think he fits the WIL position better. It's going to allow him to be a little bit more playing in space, so he can utilize his speed," said Paul Wulff.

Also playing a factor, Hoffman-Ellis' seemed most comfortable playing the weakside spot, said Wulff. And he pointed to the talent in the middle --Mike Ledgerwood emerged towards the season's latter half and there was promising scout team work by Darren Markle. And Louis Bland, when he returns in the fall (knee), is also a good fit at the MIK position, said Wulff.

"Instinctively, (Bland) is a very good football player -- and you probably want your most instinctive football player at the linebacker position to play MIK," said Wulff. "And that's where he'll also play. We feel like we can develop three quality middle linebackers, and then provide more speed by punching Alex outside at the WIL position.

Myron Beck enters the spring atop the depth chart at the strongside position. And there are a number of others who figure to factor into the mix at the outside spots, including redshirt freshmen Arthur Burns and Andre Barrington.

"At linebacker, we've got guys we can work with athletically...and more numbers there."

ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE, Wulff would like to find eight quality players who can solidify that front -- an ambitious goal this spring given the pre-spring uncertainty at defensive tackle. But the fact remains, the Cougs have been at their best on the d-line when they have quality players they can rotate.

If the Cougs are to be successful there this season, newcomers like Brandon Rankin will probably have to play big roles. Rankin, at 271 pounds, will play both end and tackle this spring. He came to WSU in January a little heavy, and has dropped about 5-10 pounds since arriving.

"He looks good...I think he's still a little overweight, he's not in the condition he can be, or will be, but he's definitely made a lot of improvement from when he got here," said Wulff.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE is Job 1 this spring. Thin, and subsequently racked by injury last season, Wulff said the unit this spring has more athleticism, strength and depth than they've had his first two years.

But having that, said Wulff, isn't enough. It now has to translate to the field.

"They've got to gel, they've got to come together...Our strength is much improved though not where it can be. But we've made a lot of progress. And now, it's about on the field. That group has got to solidify for our offense to function," he said.

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